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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Reno, Nevada » Great Basin Rangelands Research » Research » Research Project #439311

Research Project: Development of Ecological Strategies for Invasive Plant Management and Rehabilitation of Western Rangelands

Location: Great Basin Rangelands Research

Project Number: 2060-22000-025-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Oct 15, 2020
End Date: Oct 14, 2025

The Great Basin covers approximately 54 million hectares of the western United States with ranching, mining, and recreation as the primary economic activities. Invasive annual grasses and expanding native conifer populations have significantly altered ecosystems on over 20% of the Great Basin. Changes in plant type and cover, together with climate variability, drought, and land conversion have resulted in dramatic reductions in available forage and wildlife habitat, while increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Public awareness of the impacts of invasive weeds has produced conflicts regarding proper rangeland management strategies. The research proposed here will produce critical data regarding the development of complementary control strategies to address 1) biological, chemical, and cultural control of the most important invasive annual grass species: cheatgrass (Anisantha tectorum), red brome (A. rubens), and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae); and 2) the effects of woodland encroachment on water resource availability. Research will focus on the discovery and evaluation of arthropods as biological control agents against invasive annual grasses; development of methods to revegetate rangelands degraded by wildfire with plant species that can prevent reinvasion of annual grasses and other noxious weeds, while enhancing biological diversity and forage for grazing animals; and assessment of water use by native conifer populations that are replacing grazable range. Resulting management guidelines and tools will facilitate sustainable delivery of goods and services from Great Basin ecosystems to agricultural producers and land managers, while mitigating the deleterious effects of weeds and wildfires. Objective 1: Discover and evaluate new biological control candidates for invasive annual grasses i.e., medusahead, cheatgrass, and red brome to develop new biological control strategies. [NP304, C2, PS2B] · Sub-objective 1A: Conduct field surveys to discover, identify, and collect natural enemies of medusahead, cheatgrass, and red brome. · Sub-objective 1B: Evaluate candidate biological control agents of medusahead, cheatgrass, and red brome for their suitability for release in the Great Basin and adjacent invaded regions. Objective 2: Analyze the distribution of limited resources critical for plant growth between native and invasive plants, soil properties, and hydrologic processes on degraded rangelands to improve rangeland conservation and rehabilitation strategies. [NP304, C2, PS2B] · Sub-objective 2A: Assess the effects of pre- and post-emergent herbicides on invasive cheatgrass populations and on the rehabilitation of ecosystems after wildfire. · Sub-objective 2B: Investigate and quantify critical water resources of rangelands, including water use of pinyon and juniper and hydrologic responses of a meadow to tree control.

Foreign surveys for natural enemies of medusahead, red brome and cheatgrass in their native ranges will be conducted by a team of collaborators led by ARS-Reno, in coordination with European and other ARS partners. Efforts will be made to visit each surveyed target weed population at least once in all seasons over the course of the project in order to observe all plant phenological stages and their associated natural enemies. New natural enemies of targeted annual grass species that are discovered in the course of these surveys will be prepared for evaluation as candidate biocontrol agents (CBCAs), including testing of host-range and the potential for each CBCA to reduce target weed populations. Target weed populations will also be surveyed in the Great Basin to determine if native-range natural enemies are already present. Genetic markers will be used to reveal precise relationships between geographically separated populations of CBCAs. The efficacy of three soil-active pre-emergent herbicides, Imazapic (Plateau), Sulfometuron methyl-Chlorsulfuron (Landmark XP), and Indaziflam (Esplanade), to reduce cheatgrass and its associated seed bank will be tested. Herbicides will be applied in the fall on two recently-burned Wyoming-sagebrush sites, as well as on adjacent unburned areas infested with cheatgrass. Seed mixes (native and introduced species) will also be evaluated for their ability re-establish persistent, desirable plant communities. A weather will be established station at each research site to record amount and time of precipitation events. Plant and soil attributes will be measured bi-monthly over the entire year. Foliar cover, seedling emergence, mortality, persistence, and density of all test plant species, as well as cheatgrass seed bank density, will be estimated and species diversity and richness will be calculated. Effects of herbicides and seeding treatments on native plants, invasive species, biological soil crust, and soil properties will be evaluated. Pinyon and juniper trees will be instrumented with heat dissipation probes to measure transpiration at Porter Canyon Experimental Watershed (PCEW) in plant communities dominated by pinyon-juniper, sagebrush steppe, and meadows (where groundwater springs occur). Locations will include a valley bottom site and east- and west-facing hill slopes. Additional trees will be instrumented with variable depth probes to control for reductions in flow with depth of xylem area. Stems will be collected from trees to extract xylem water to determine the source of transpiration water from these trees using stable isotopic analyses of hydrogen and oxygen in plant xylem water. In addition, the effects of mechanical tree removal on a downslope meadow system will be quantified by measuring changes in ephemeral flow and groundwater levels relative to eight years of baseline data. Vegetation transects will be measured annually to quantify tree removal treatments on groundwater depth, soil, moisture, meadow community composition, and peak of seasonal greenness